The Destructive Power of Alcohol

The Destructive Power of Alcohol

Part II in a look at social issues in Greenland (Read: Part I).

No where else have I seen the effects of Alcohol on a population so vividly as I have in Greenland. Alcohol is heavily taxed in Greenland, and in general can be 2-4x the cost compared to Denmark. As a baseline, the locally brewed beers I was buying with my dinners were roughly $12 each.

Given how prevalent alcoholism is here, and its effects on the body, it's not surprising that people are placing at least some of the blame on the high suicide rate on alcohol. One has to wonder that if the alcoholism is as prevalent amongst the youth committing suicide as it is amongst adults, why are the suicides so concentrated in the teens and not the later years?

In order to combat the high rates of alcoholism, in addition to taxation, the government has restricted the times and days when you can buy alcohol in markets and stores. The sale of alcohol is prohibited on Sundays, after 1pm on Saturdays, and after 6pm during the week. These policies definitely had the downside of making it considerably harder for me to track down and purchase local liquor for me to bring back to the US.

Just how common is alcoholism here? Well, in my few days in Ilulissat alone, I ran into several people that were clearly drunk in the mid afternoon. I've heard from one of the local tour operators that when he worked in a bar, it wasn't uncommon for people to walk into the bar, throw some cash down and ask how much alcohol they could get for the money. As ice is literally everywhere here, lots of people tend to walk around and just drag their possessions in black plastic garbage bags on the ice. A bit of the local "culture" I suppose, but definitely understandable as this typically seems better than the alternative of carrying your goods. Dragging a bag when you're drunk though - that's a different story, especially when small hills are involved. The scene kind of plays out in your head before it happens. Drunk guy dragging a bag full of groceries, walking up a hill, and next thing you know there's a giant can of tomatoes tumbling down the hill. If he wasn't drunk, it might be a bit more comical, but knowing he's drunk and chasing after his groceries, it's more of just a sad scene.

Seeing a random drunk guy make his way about town doesn't really do justice to just how seriously effected the urban Inuit have become by alcohol. On my flight back to Copenhagen, i had a couple Greenlanders sitting to my right, who partook in the time honored tradition of free alcohol during the beverage service typical on international flights. One of them, while pouring his small bottle of wine into his cup wanted to make sure not a single drop was wasted. He patiently held his bottle out as each drop came slowly dripping out. We're talking, holding the bottle out for a good 30 seconds or so, just to make sure he got every. last. drop.

Meanwhile, I noticed the guys in the row behind me were getting louder and louder. Behaving as if they were drunk. Sure enough, a few minutes later one of the flight attendants comes by and a heated conversation ensues, in Danish. Unable to really understand, but unable to occupy myself with anything else, I can't help but look on to see what's going on. I mean, I have a pretty good suspicion based on the fact that these couple of guys seemed like they were getting drunk. Sure enough, these guys had bought hard liquor at the duty free shop prior to boarding. The kind that comes in tamper-proof plastic bags so you can bring it with you on the airplane, except that they opened the bags and were taking turns drinking hard liquor. Naturally, they didn't want to part with their alcohol, but after a second flight attendant joined the conversation, it wasn't long until the liquor was confiscated. Drinking hard liquor right out of the bottle on an airplane? That's dedication, to alcohol.

Today's Photo - Urban Inuit

While taking a short city tour of Ilulisat, I met this friendly local. He introduced himself and asked for my name and invited me to take this photo of him. He then carried on about his business dragging his groceries behind him.

 Local Ilulissat Greenlander with his groceries.

Local Ilulissat Greenlander with his groceries.